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Keeping visitors safe adds to the cost of Milan Expo

A display of strength should not be a problem: with roughly 278 thousand agents Italy has the largest number of law enforcement officers in Europe.

In June 2010, a month after the opening of the 2010 Shanghai Expo, three men were arrested in Norway and Germany. The suspects, accused of belonging to a separatist movement linked with Al Qaeda, were allegedly planning an attack against the Chinese embassy in Norway. It was a clear signal that during Expos, embassies are vulnerable.

And once more, security is in the spotlight ahead of the Milan Expo, which will open in May — especially after last month’s terror attacks in Paris killed 17 people, but also considering the bigger role the militants are now playing in Libya. Not far from the Italian border there is a tangible terrorism threat.

However, the Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia has played down recent reports that Expo 2015 is exposed to possible terrorist attacks. “These concerns are based on hypothetical elements and not on real evidence” he said. “I know”, he added, “central government has promised reinforced [security], and I know this will be in place”.

“The events in Paris made us focus even more attention on security, but this is a work we started a long time ago” argued Giuseppe Sala, the Government Commissioner in charge of the €1.3 billion (Dh5.4bn) Expo investment, stressing that “security is fundamental for Expo 2015 both at a technical and at an economic level”.

So, at a technical level, a thousand private security guards will watch over the shoulders of the expected 20 million tourists, and that’s on the top of thousands of policemen and officers from other security forces that will also take part in the programme.

A display of strength shouldn’t be a problem: with roughly 278 thousand agents Italy has the largest number of law enforcement officers in Europe, followed by Germany (where there are about 243,000).

As for the economic level, the €20 million tender for the security guards was won a few days ago by a consortium of three Italian companies. More than 2,000 security cameras will be activated and the Expo grounds will be surrounded by a security fence: arriving visitors will be subject to controls similar to those facing travellers at airports, including 108 scanners for bags and 405 walk-through metal detectors.

The technological heart of the security programme lies in the main operation centre that is part of the €28.3 million contract signed with Finmeccanica, Italy’s largest defence conglomerate. Here all data coming from digital cameras and sensors will be gathered and analysed and the exposition area will be monitored using a 3D map display. Other contracts have been awarded to ensure the safety of Expo visitors, all to Italian companies, but, despite 2015 Expo’s efforts to show transparency, it has been impossible to find out how much money was spent so far in this field. The risk is not limited to terrorism: last September a company involved in the refurbishing of the building that will host the Main operation centre was suspended by prosecutors after being accused of links with the mafia.

Because security has many aspects, clearly whatever system is implemented businesses can’t remove all of the possible threats they may face.

So, in addition to the security measures in place to protect their most valuable assets, “they should also have plans and strategies to respond to serious incident and the contingency arrangements for getting back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible,” Chris Phillips, the former head of the British National Counter Terrorism Security Office, told The National.

But, especially after 9/11, the mantra for law enforcers is “thinking the unthinkable”, as argued by the University of Alberta’s Philip Boyle and Kevin Haggerty, in their paper “Spectacular Security: Mega-Events and the Security Complex”.

Not surprisingly, ahead of the recent opening of the 17th edition of Intersec in Dubai, defined as the world’s largest trade fair for security, expectations for the 2020 Expo, the first one to take place in the Middle East, were running high: “The Dubai Expo 2020 will create major global opportunities in the safety and security industry and will encourage new ideas for innovation” said Alessio Grotto, the president of Italian exhibitor Videotec.

Yet, even though we live in the “thinking the unthinkable” era some Italians even joke: “Italy cannot be a real target, strikes and delays make life impossible for hijackers”.

Jacopo Barigazzi is a former Newsweek contributor and Reuters journalist. Based in Milan, he is writing a monthly column for these pages on the build-up to Expo 2015.

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Updated: February 7, 2015 04:00 AM



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